DETROIT – A family is suing the city of Detroit after firefighters cleared a house fire and said the home was empty, only to find out five days later that a family member was still inside.
For the first time, the victim's mother and brother are talking about the incident, explaining to the Local 4 Defenders why they have decided to file a seven-figure lawsuit against the city and the Detroit Fire Department.
Firefighters didn't see Kevin McGriff, 26, lying on the kitchen floor when they put out a fire on the city's west side.
Family members were on the fence about filing a lawsuit, but an independent autopsy revealed it was possible McGriff could still be alive if firefighters had found him.
"It's people hurting and they need to get the message that, you know, we're not taking this," Kyle McGriff, the victim's brother, said. "You know, it can't just be thrown away. We're hurting for the rest of our lives for this."
"I don't understand," Kelly Dougherty, the victim's mother, said. "I don't know. They just ran in, put the fire out and ran out."
According to the wrongful death lawsuit filed in Wayne County, McGriff was asleep March 5 in the family home when his father went to work.
The Detroit Fire Department was called at 8:25 a.m. According to the lawsuit at least three people dialed 911 operators about the fire, but the tapes have gone missing.
"They said they couldn't find them," Greg Rohl, the family's attorney, said. "They had them, they lost them. Every time we asked them there was a different story."
The official report shows firefighters arrived at the home within four minutes of the call. They put out the fire and searched the home, finding the family's dog and cat dead inside.
Firefighters then cleared the scene, saying the house was empty, according to the report.
Family members started a massive search for Kevin McGriff, but five days later, his father went into the house to find insurance papers and found his son on the kitchen floor.
"My dad ran over and he said he wept to his knees and kind of almost collapsed, and they called the (police station) and everything and they blocked off the roads and carried out his body," Kyle McGriff said. "It was just crazy."
"We just can't understand," Dougherty said. "My son was 6-foot-4. The kitchen was not that large, and it was an open, you know, an open floor plan. We just can't understand it."
Dougherty said there's no excuse for firefighters not to have found her son and rushed him to the hospital.
"Then come to find out at the autopsy -- they said that possibly they could have saved him," Dougherty said.
Findings from the autopsy suggest McGriff might have been alive when firefighters left the scene, officials said.
"That's intolerable for me, for this family," Rohl said. "This is outrageous, and they could've done their job and avoided this."
Family members said the lawsuit puts everyone on notice that they want answers in their loved one's death.
"I just hope that this keeps this from happening again," Dougherty said. "Nobody should go through this."
Family members said there's no way to bring Kevin McGriff back, but they believe the lawsuit could lead to new protocols. As a start, they want two fire officials to check every room before clearing a scene.
The Detroit fire commissioner has apologized to the family, saying firefighters are responsible for making sure everyone is out of the home before they leave a scene.
The Detroit Fire Department chose not to comment further about Kevin McGriff's death or the lawsuit.